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Achoa v. BB&T Bank

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 29, 2018

CLEMENT NJI ACHOA, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
BB&T BANK, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          STENGEL, C. J.

         Defendant BB&T Bank removed this action to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction, after Plaintiffs Clement Nji Achoa and Edison Ndikum filed their original complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. The plaintiffs allege claims of negligence, assault and battery, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution against the defendant. The plaintiffs' wives, Clementine Somba and Lobline Ndikum, bring two claims against the defendant for loss of consortium. The defendant has filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to which the plaintiffs responded. For the following reasons, I will grant the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         The amended complaint alleges that Mr. Achoa is employed by Gripes Auto Sales which requires him to make frequent bank transactions. On October 28, 2016, Mr. Achoa and Mr. Ndikum were at an auto auction in Manheim, Pennsylvania. They left the auction and went to the defendant's branch in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to deposit checks and $12, 600 in cash. Mr. Achoa is a customer of the defendant and usually does business at its Lancaster branch. The cashier took the checks and cash and began to process the transaction. The cashier consulted with other staff members, and told Mr. Achoa that he would have to wait for a receipt and for the transaction to be processed. During the wait, Mr. Achoa continually asked what the problem was, and he was repeatedly assured that the computers were down, his transaction was processing, and he and Mr. Ndikum were not to leave the bank. After one hour, the police arrived. There were approximately ten police officers throughout the bank including some guarding the exits. The two plaintiffs were told by the police and bank personnel that they could not leave the premises.

         At 2:30 p.m., the two plaintiffs were arrested for allegedly attempting to pass counterfeit United States currency. They were handcuffed in front of everyone in the bank and taken to the police station. The two were placed in separate cells, denied food and water, and were interrogated separately for approximately one hour. Mr. Achoa overheard the police officers joking about two black guys trying to pass off counterfeit money.

         At approximately 9:30 p.m., a police officer opened the doors and told the plaintiffs that they were allowed to come out when they were ready. Secret Service agents had come to the bank to check the money, and they determined that the cash was legitimate United States currency. When Mr. Achoa walked out of the cell, a police officer said, “The damn bills were good.”

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Following the Supreme Court decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009), pleading standards in federal actions have shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to allege facts sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009).

         While Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), in order to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . .claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, ” Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. 544, the plaintiff must provide “more than labels and conclusions.” Byrne v. Cleveland Clinic, 684 F.Supp.2d 641, 649 (E.D. Pa. 2010)(citing Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. 544). A facially plausible claim may not be supported by conclusory allegations, but must allow the court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Count I -- Negligence

         The amended complaint alleges that the defendant breached a duty it owed to the two male plaintiffs as business invitees. Specifically, it alleges that the defendant failed to, inter alia: properly train its employees; properly supervise the employees that detained the plaintiffs; draft, implement, and enforce policies that would serve to eliminate the use of illegal detainment; adequately train its work force to recognize counterfeit currency; and properly monitor its employees; properly investigate transactions. The amended complaint also alleges that the defendant was negligent by allowing its employees to profile customers.

         To state a claim for negligence in Pennsylvania, a plaintiff must aver that (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, (2) the defendant breached that duty, (3) the breach resulted in injury to the plaintiff, and (4) the plaintiff suffered an actual loss or damage. Gabriel v. Giant Eagle, Inc., 124 F.Supp.3d 550 (W.D. Pa. 2015) (quoting Martin v. Evans, 711 A.2d 458, 461 (Pa. 1998)). The plaintiffs allege that they were business invitees of the bank. The duty owed to business invitees is the highest duty owed to any entrant upon land. Falcone v. Speedway, LLC, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7324, *4 (E.D. Pa. 2017). In making out a prima facie case, a business invitee must ultimately prove that the landowner had a hand in creating the harmful condition, or that he had actual or constructive notice of such condition. Id. at *5.

         The defendant argues that this claim fails for the following reasons: (1) Mr. Ndikum was not a customer of the bank and therefore was not owed a duty, see Fink v. Corporate Liaison, LLC, 2013 U.S. Dist. 57532 (E.D. Pa. 2013); (2) the gist of the action doctrine bars Mr. Achoa's negligence claim because the duty owed to him arises under contract, see eToll, Inc. v. Elias/Savion ...


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